By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife reporting from Budapest, Hungary
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- A Budapest court handed down prison terms to three men for "insulting" and "harassing" visitors of the World Jewish Congress (WJC) in the capital amid worries over rising anti-Semitism in Hungary, officials confirmed Friday, May 10.
The main culprit, who also faces court proceedings for other violent crimes, was sentenced to three years imprisonment while the other defendants received a two-year suspended sentence, the Budapest Chief Prosecutor's Office said.
"Last Friday a group began harassing foreign participants of the WJC, who were leaving the [Great] Synagogue in Dohány Street," the government's International Communications Office (ICO) told BosNewsLife in a statement.
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The three assailants, whose names were not released, allegedly shouted Nazi slogans and anti-Semitic insults at the WJC delegates in Budapest while making Nazi salutes, before undercover police intervened.
"The incident was interrupted by the rapid and effective intervention of plainclothes detectives from the National Investigation Office," the ICO said. Trial observers said the main suspect - who was reportedly on probation for a previous drug offense - is appealing his sentence at the Metropolitan Court of Budapest.
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY
The WJC, which claims to represent Jewish communities in 100 countries, said it decided to hold its Plenary Assembly for the first time in Hungary as "a show of solidarity with the local Jewish community" which has "suffered increasing anti-Semitism in recent years."
On the eve of the official opening of the WJC gathering, supporters of the far-right Movement For a Better Hungary (Jobbik) party gathered in Budapest for a tribute to what organizers called the victims of Bolshevism and Zionism.
The May 4 demonstration attracted up to 1,000 people and senior Jobbik officials who publicly accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of "praising Jews" for "plotting to buy up large parts of Hungary".
"The Israeli conquerors, these investors, should look for another country in the world for themselves because Hungary is not for sale," party chairman Gábor Vona told the rally. Jobbik legislator Márton Gyöngyösi said Hungary had "become subjugated to Zionism, it has become a target of colonization while we, the indigenous people, can play only the role of extras".
Last year, Gyöngyösi sparked international outrage by saying all government and other officials of Jewish origin should be officially listed, as they might be a "national security risk".
"WJC SHAMING HUNGARIANS"
Jobbik officials also said the World Jewish Congress had decided to hold its gathering in Budapest "to shame" the Hungarian people.
Speaking at the WJC gathering, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán called anti-Semitism "unacceptable and intolerable."
However the WJC later said it regretted that Orbán did not did "not confront the true nature of the problem: the threat posed by the anti-Semites in general and by the extreme-right Jobbik party in particular."
The ruling Fidesz party has been accused of flirting with the far-right as Orbán seeks reelection next year, despite his declining popularity.
Last week's Jobbik rally was no isolated incident. Paramilitary groups linked to Jobbik marched through Roma villages in uniforms and carrying flags resembling the Nazi-era, causing fear among Holocaut survivors. Several Jewish people have been threatened or attacked while Holocaust memorials and other Jewish sites were vandalized.
MORE ATTACKS REPORTED
Last month also saw an attack against the head of the local Raoul Wallenberg Association, named after the late Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during World War Two.
Ferenc Orosz said he was verbally assaulted and then his nose was broken following a match at Budapest’s Puskas Stadium which he attended with his family on Sunday, April 28.
Orosz told Hungarian media that supporters shouted chants praising Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and the Nazi slogan “Sieg Heil”. When he asked them to stop he was allegedly threatened and called a “Jewish Communist”.
After the match, when he was leaving the stadium, two men reportedly blocked his way with one of them saying: "It is Sieg Heil, even so” while the other hit Orosz, who was later hospitalized with a broken nose. Hungarian police have reportedly pressed charges against the assailant.
MANY JEWISH VICTIMS
Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, when Hungary was a close ally of Nazi Germany. Yet, after Russia, Hungary still boosts East Europe's largest Jewish community of some 100,000 people, a heritage that should be cherished, said WJC President Ronald S. Lauder at the opening of the May 5-7 gathering.
"Albert Einstein happens to be one of the few top physicists in the last century who was not born in Hungary but figures such as Szilárd, Teller and Johnny von Neuman were just some of the brilliant Jewish minds that all came from Hungary and left a huge impact on the world," he told delegates, including church leaders.
"Joseph Pulitzer, one of America’s greatest newspaper publishers and the founder of the most coveted prize in journalism that still bears his name today came from Hungary. And of course, Theodor Herzl, who founded the modern Zionist movement that led to the creation of Israel is from here as well," Lauder noted.
"This always strikes me as so obvious – when Jews are allowed to live their lives freely and practice their religion, countries always flourish...But all too often, the irrational hatred that is anti-Semitism defeats common sense."